I’ve been thinking about Ignatius’s Presupposition lately. This is a ground rule for the Spiritual Exercises that he puts right at the beginning of the book. It’s about the relationship between the spiritual director and the person making the retreat.
To assure better cooperation between the one who is giving the Exercises and the exercitant, and more beneficial results for both, it is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false. If an orthodox construction cannot be put on a proposition, the one who made it should be asked how he understands it. If he is in error, he should be corrected with all kindness. If this does not suffice, all appropriate means should be used to bring him to a correct interpretation, and so to defend the proposition from error.
Note that Ignatius isn’t saying that we should play Mister Nice Guy and ignore mistakes and false beliefs. Error should be corrected—but “with all kindness.” But before we start correcting other people, we need to do something else, and that is to do everything we can to understand how the other person understands the proposition that bothers us so much. This is the part that’s so often skipped. We think we already know why someone is spouting dangerous nonsense: they’re ignorant, or selfish, or afraid to admit the truth. They’re bad.
How good it would be if spouses, politicians, business associates, and fellow Christians did what Ignatius advised, and were more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false.